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Theater Review: 'Simon Says'

by Photo of Paul Hansen

A new play by Mat Schaffer examines the paranormal.

Theater Review: 'Simon Says'

As Shakespeare wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Simon Says, a new play about the paranormal and the metaphysical possibilities of the universe, is being presented at the Lynn Redgrave Theater in Manhattan. 

The drama, by Mat Schaffer, is set in the living room of a Professor Williston, a seventy-ish intellectual with an interest in the occult. A number of years ago Williston became aware of James who as a young child demonstrated psychic abilities which received national attention. Suffering from a troubled childhood, James came to live with Williston, but now being of college age, James is eager to leave. James has the ability to channel an all-seeing and ancient spirit known as Simon.

Annie, a young widow and science teacher, arrives for a consultation. She is clearly still traumatized by the death of her husband and baby in a traffic accident two years previously. James agrees to conduct a channeling during which the spirit of Annie's late husband is apparently contacted.

The above is a bare-bones description of a plot that is used as a structure to investigate a variety of paranormal subjects, including reincarnation and synchronicity. Carl Jung is mentioned and the discussion of pain and suffering seems to be influenced by some of the philosophy of Buddhism.

As Williston, veteran Broadway actor Brian Murray has an aristocratic presence on stage which is reminiscent of the late John Houseman. Vanessa Britting as Annie convincingly conveys the sense of someone whose psyche is gnawed by a tragedy in much the same way as a vulture perpetually mauled Prometheus' liver.

Anthony J. Goes performing James has a strong stage presence. His physical contortions showing the possession of James by Simon are quite dramatic, but contribute a slight sense of déjà vu, as anyone who has seen possession or exorcism films would be familiar with the somewhat clichéd physical movements.

The production is directed by Myriam Cyr. Janie E. Howland provides a set that certainly looks like the living room of a bookish professor. The lighting, so essential in dramas about the supernatural, is designed by John R. Malinowski.

I had a sense that some of the dramatic field of Simon Says had been treaded before, such as in the Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze film Ghost, in which a dead lover is also channeled through a psychic. But Schaffer's play is far more expansive in its investigation of various aspects of the paranormal. Those who are interested in parapsychology and the ideas of Carl Jung would find the play particularly intriguing. (Interestingly, Jung wrote his doctoral thesis on the occult, and included a description of a number of seances which he attended).

Audience members having difficulty dealing with grief and tragedy may also find the play comforting. At one point Simon says, “When we grieve, we come face to face with our mortality...Do not define yourself by your grief and allow yourself to become its servant. Grieving is another opportunity for growth and evolution.”

Simon Says is being presented through July 30 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, located at 45 Bleeker St.


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